Redefining “Healthy” as a Parent

Wellness Wednesday

My wife and I took our two lovely daughters on a walk last night, which is no small feat for a weeknight. By the time the girls are picked up from daycare, dinner is prepared and eaten, and clothes are changed, it’s usually 7:00 – 7:15 before we can squeeze out the door with an 8:00 bedtime looming. If you know anything about toddlers, that sequence is quite the battle and practically a workout in itself. Just changing the toddler’s shoes for a walk usually takes me 20 minutes to accomplish, the shoes on the wrong feet, and often ends in either her or myself in tears. #Parenting. Nevertheless, we survived dinner and shoveled our little ladies onto the sidewalks to enjoy the beautiful weather and slow down as a family, if only for a short time.

My wife, who has been steadily and eagerly reincorporating her workout routine 14 weeks post-baby, used the excellent weather to start jogging ahead and around throughout the neighborhood. I admired her dedication and had to smile about the scenario at hand, where an attempt at fitness was funneled into 6-7 minute bursts of jogging around the block while I desperately tried to keep Eliza from smashing the neighbor’s daffodils. It’s a beautiful thought that we can incorporate activity and fitness into our daily family commitments, but it can also be rather bittersweet that extensive gym sessions have been replaced by jogging around the family walking party and floor abs or stretching/yoga sessions with a two year old giggling while climbing your sweaty frame.

I’m not saying that gym time and enviable wellness cannot be achieved in parenthood, but it is worth noting how the expectations change within the different realities. First, for the workout itself, going to the gym or outdoors used to be a leisurely stress reliever. Not leisurely in the sense of going through the motions, but leisurely because I had large swaths of time across most days to workout. I could take my time on a jog outdoors or try some funky new contraption at the gym just for fun. Anymore, workouts are compressed into slivers of time that mandate efficiency. It’s a 10-minute jog through the neighborhood for my wife because the toddler won’t stay out of the street and the newborn wailing as she bounces up and down while I chase her sister. Even when I escape to the gym, I’m constantly looking at the clock to measure how quickly I can wrap up and return to other responsibilities.

Past the workout, healthy eating gets more challenging each and every day. If you are new to the blog, understand that I can be a little nuts about food nutrition on occasion. The older Eliza gets and the more our family grows, the harder it is to cook meals and eat the way we’d prefer. I do a ton of meal prep on Sundays and there are some weeks where I want to ‘meal prep’ by buying 32 McDonald’s cheeseburgers and shoving them in the freezer for the whole week and giving up on healthy eating. Again, in the BC (before children) era, I may not have been eating perfectly, but I could usually carve out time for consistent homemade meals.

Finally, as we explored on Monday, the sleep conundrum can be devastating to parents, primarily those with the young-un’s that view the midnight hour as party time and 3 am as the last call on milk and cuddles. My wife and I are running on tanks where the arrows have been left of the E indicator for thousands of miles but the cars just keeps running. Squeezing in a sweaty exertion after a 4-hour night of sleep is difficult to keep pinned at the top of the priority list.

How can you define health and wellness when the environmental parameters shift so suddenly? The truth is that expectations do change during parenthood and it’s up to you on clarifying what that looks like and where you can succeed. It’s an absolute privilege raising my daughters, but it’s also an exhausting journey that I contemplate often. The underlying motivation for chasing fitness and health isn’t actually stress relief, piece of mind, or vanity (perhaps those too though), but rather that my health now matters to someone else. There’s a reason I included Wellness Wednesday in my outline for ParentalGrit; it might be off-putting or bizarre to see health articles nuzzled in between funny anecdotes and parenting nods of encouragement on the same website, but I made the decision because I view my own health as much more important with kids than without and I imagine other parents feel the same. It was much easier living a little reckless before my wife and kids, but now there’s this enjoyable burden that I do actually need to protect my health for the sake of my girls.

So the expectations of health may change with kids (and the motivation alongside it), but the premise is the same: living your best life by maximizing the resources at hand. Happy hump day!

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